Taylor Hanson Talks ‘Anthem’ & 20 Years Of Hanson: The Idolator Interview
With a career that spans 20 years and the youngest member only turning 28 this year, Hanson literally grew up in the music business. But despite having eight (!) studio albums (including a Christmas LP) under their belts, Isaac, Taylor and Zac ran into a bit of an issue when it came to writing their upcoming album Anthem (out June 18).
“We started it but really hit a snag for the first time in 20 years,” keyboardist and singer Taylor Hanson told Idolator. “The stress level among the three of us with touring and the non-stop work and everything – we kind of hit a wall. And we took a lot of the summer last year away from writing, not working on it, and just said, ‘Hey, take a deep breath,’ and asked ourselves what we wanted this record to be.” He continued, “So when we came back together to specifically focus on writing, that energy, that more guitar-driven epic attitude and intensity and the force of this album was apparent. A theme on a record is something you can only partly instigate. You can’t predict what the inspiration is going to be, and that attitude is what helped with Anthem and evaluating and re-evaluating what our band is and what we need to say on this record.”
Despite the obstacles the guys had to face with this album, it’s “an upbeat record but one with a lot of punch to it.” So much punch that one track has become an Oklahoma City Thunder anthem. Idolator had a chance to chat with Taylor about all of that, as well as his love for Instagram and advice he’d give his younger self. Head below for the Q&A.
Anthem has more of a rock sound compared to you last album, Shout It Out. What was your approach with this one?
Right from the start it has a little bit harder of an edge. Guitars have a strong place in the songs. I think it was a combination of factors that inspired the increased intensity of the record. Going through the record from the beginning we just talked about imagining the music on a stage, and the word “anthem” was going to be on it — just the idea that songs become more than just a song. There’s something powerful about a song that people can really get behind. Whether it’s the summertime, good time anthem or it’s the anthem overcoming adversity, it’s a song with the power to take hold of life beyond itself once it connects to the audience. That whole idea was coming from rising interest to capture this intense attitude. You hear that in different respects, you know. On the record you have some blues-riff songs and then you have some singalong with big “oh, oh” parts you can pass to the audience.
The song “Fired Up,” which is the first song on the album, is like the pregame [track] that gets people kind of going before an activity. It’s been used by Fox Sports all over for basketball. Our Oklahoma City basketball team is using it. So the songs on the record capture this bigger sound and different quality of the band.
Hanson — “Get The Girl Back”
Are you guys big basketball fans?
We are huge Thunder fans, and I have to say Isaac is the biggest sports nerd. He can go down every stat. We love the Thunder. A couple of years ago, we made a connection with them because we’re fans, and they asked us to sing the national anthem at a game. So we got to know the team a little bit. When we put out this record, we just stayed in communication with the team, and they were looking for music. And “Fired Up” just seemed [to fit] the energy of the season.
There wasn’t too much time between Shout It Out and Anthem. Any particular reason?
We have had long breaks between records historically. This break wasn’t short. The last record came out in 2010, but we toured a lot and did a lot of media surrounding the record. So I think, for people who follow the record, it feels like a relatively short turnaround by no means is it super fast. We wanted to push to get the record out as quickly as we could and hold onto the energy that we saw with Shout It Out. We were able to reach fans in South America and Australia and Asia with that record, as late as last year and in 2011. So I think the world has gotten so much smaller. I think fans have gotten connected so much more than they were around the world. So there is a sense that it is relatively quick. I guess the short answer is we have been working on new music since the last record, but we did take a little a bit of a break last year.
After being in the music industry for so long, where do you guys still get the inspiration for new material?
For one, we look at the example of the people we admire most and their ability to continue to evolve, even if it’s in subtle ways, I think that’s the only path to continue to engage with them. What I look to is the continual hunger to look at the world around you. As a songwriter, you just have to keep your antenna up, whether it’s in your own music or looking at someone else’s band. The truth of it is part of the evolution of any band is mystery of, “What could we do next?” Challenging yourself. That’s part of what keeps it going, that challenge and desire. Autopilot is not the friend of an artist.
What was the most memorable song to work on?
The record definitely has some moments that are unique to this album. And like I mentioned before, the opening track, “Fired Up,” then there’s “You Can’t Stop Us Now,” which is another very riff-driven, singalong, kind of you and the crowd singing along. Those songs were essential in getting the album off the ground because we weren’t ready to capture this intensity in a way that felt authentic. When we walked away from those tracks, I felt we’ve definitely done something we have not done on any other album, and that’s always a good feeling.
You collaborated with Fitz and the Tantrums on the song “Get the Girl Back.” What was that experience like?
We connected with them when we were on the road for the last album. We heard their record, and we both had mutual respect and admiration for what each other’s music. And how it started was like, “Hey! We’re fans of you guys,” and they felt the same way. So once we met, we tried to figure out what we could do together. We had to go back to a song called, “I’ve Got Soul,” and there is a verse that Fitz sings. And we felt those two songs made sense musically. They were able to develop this neo-soul punk thing that’s something that we love as well. And with the single, “Get the Girl Back,” we love the idea of mixing their sound and put it into that record.
“Get the Girl Back” was also chosen as a first single in large part because it really captures something that’s very much our band, which is just this love for classic soul music and pop music. It’s extremely organic, but we try to push it down and have a modern energy. And adding Fitz to it sent it over the edge and was an opportunity we’ve wanted. So it was fun.
With all the tours you’re planning to do for this album, how do you prep for something like this? Since it’s the summer, is the family coming along as well?
Our family is always close by. Family isn’t necessarily on every plane ride, but they will be with us here and there. Then when there are international shows, it’s fun to have the kids see the world and broaden their horizons. But we’re very much focused on rehearsal and plotting the tour.
Being on the road so much, what is in your survival kit?
Well, there’s the real true survival like having your laptop and your communication devices. I’ve had iPads and broken them along the way. At one point, that was an essential tool. For me, a camera. I’m really into capturing photos on the road. That’s one of the quick ways to share stories with the fans so several different cameras. A good book if you have a little bit of time. And of course, in my case, you got to have two brothers so the bus is always packed.
Since you mentioned the photography, you keep up your own Instagram account. Are you big on social media? What are your favorites?
Instagram is the form I find the easiest because it’s surrounded by content. We use Twitter and connect with people as much as we can, but I think there are other people use it more effectively than we do. But I have to say for me, Instagram is my preferred form of social interaction because it always starts with an image you can share and is about sharing content. But as a band, we use all of them. One tool we’re really excited about is our mobile app. It’s a straightforward mobile app. The features on that will increase as the tour goes on, and the fans can talk to each other and network that’s more streamlined. So I think those things that can actually enhance your experience as a fan, those are the things I find more interesting in social media.
Who are you listening to right now?
A lot of the bands we admire and are friends with. The new Fitz [and the Tantrums] record is great. And actually Paul McDonald, who’s in the [“Get the Girl Back”] music video and is married to Nikki Reed, their EP is fantastic. I really like it. I’m really digging the new Daft Punk. There are so many great records, but we’ve been so deep into finishing our stuff that we haven’t heard as much.
You and Isaac are in your early 30s, and Zac is in his late 20s. What would you say to your teen selves about getting into the music business?
Wear less polyester, and invest in a Starbucks. Buy Apple stock, a lot of it early. I think a lot of lessons we’ve learned and a lot of the hard decisions were made when we were younger. We didn’t have any huge pitfalls besides the decline of the general industry-ness the music business is. But I would tell them to stick to our guns and our passion and encourage the decisions that we were trying to make and feel the process. If you’re in the right direction, don’t doubt it. Just head on down the road and look toward brighter days ahead.